Confusing the Point

Edward Snowden
Image by: DonkeyHotey

This may be the most obtuse argument I’ve read regarding Edward Snowden. I don’t want to be too hard on Jay Evensen but the logic he uses here is terrible. A conspiracy theorist could come up with many sinister motives for such a poor argument against Snowden but I’m sure it’s something much more mundane like trying to meet a publishing deadline.

Let’s break it down.

First we have an attempt to discredit Snowden based on his connection with Russia.

{Snowden} chose exile {in Russia} because he faces charges of espionage in the United States for revealing things he felt were so egregious he no longer could keep quiet about them. And yet neither he nor his friend, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, seem concerned enough about the blatant abuses in Russia or other countries to dig deeper and expose more.

But it’s no longer convincing, or even noble, to claim a sort of relativistic neutrality while hiding in Russia.

There are two parts to this. The first is that Snowden had a choice of where he took exile. This argument requires that we ignore the fact that while Snowden chose exile because of the charges of espionage in the U.S. he was unable to fly to any of the other locations that offered him exile. Russia was functionally his only option. The second is that Snowden should be exposing Russian digital espionage. This argument relies on ignoring the fact that Snowden’s revelations about the NSA are not based on some super hacker skill on Snowden’s part. Snowden’s information was based on him holding a position of privileged access within the NSA which he would never have within Russian intelligence.

Then we have an effort to defend the NSA by saying it does necessary work.

The U.S. government spies on people. We get it. The NSA is a huge agency with the resources to build a profile on just about anybody it chooses. We get that, too.

But why does the NSA do it? Could there be noble reasons, even if the methods aren’t the best?

Does Snowden care at all about the security of the nation he fled? Does he think the NSA should stop spying altogether, or can he imagine a reason why a spy agency might be important in a dangerous world? What would he consider proper spying?

Again this comes in two parts. The questions for Snowden can’t be asked sincerely unless you have only listened to the non-Snowden side of the story. He has been very clear that he recognizes the necessity of espionage activities and that the reasons behind his actions were the systemic abuses whereby the agency overstepped their constitutional authority (which someone might argue is occasionally necessary) and hid their actions not only from the American public at large (which is certainly necessary to some degree where espionage is concerned) but also from the very congressional committees with oversight over their actions (which is a red flag of the first order in all cases).

Using “Could there be noble reasons, even if the methods aren’t the best?” as an argument here would be like saying of the John Swallow case that raising money is necessary to run a campaign so even if he got money from payday lenders it really shouldn’t be a big deal. That argument completely misses the point of the outrage which isn’t that Swallow got money from payday lenders and that the NSA was spying. The reason for people to be upset in both cases is the way John Swallow and the NSA both went to great lengths to hide their activities from the very people they were supposed to be working for and the organizations that were authorized to provide oversight for their operations.

It occurred to me as I reviewed the article that the point Mr. Evensen wanted to make was that Russia was a greater threat to liberty than the NSA. If so, this was not the way to try making that argument.